Good morning, Cheviot Churches! This is Colin, and I hope everyone is well and safe. We have our service for the 5th Sunday of Easter, and today we are marking the start of Christian Aid Week. It will be very different from usual. There will be no door-to-door collections, but all charities are going through extremely difficult times, and it is so important that we support Christian Aid in the vital work they do amongst the poorest in our world.
Call to Worship
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
We are not troubled. We trust in God!
God’s house has many dwelling places.
Christ himself has gone to prepare a place for us.
We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
God of all the Earth, be present with us now, in each of our homes, as we connect together. Build us into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to you through Jesus Christ, our risen redeemer and healer. Amen.
Hymn 198 – Let us build a house (vv 1,4,5)
(It may seem strange to sing the lyric: ‘All are welcome in this place’ at a time when no one is welcome into our homes or to collective worship in our church building. However, at this time more than ever, we are learning that the church is not the building but it is us, the people.)
We have been encouraged to wash our hands frequently, and our prayer of confession uses this imagery:
Let us pray
As we turn on the tap, we turn our hearts towards you, O God. As we wet our hands, renew our thoughts, so we might be transformed. As we lather soap between fingers and over all our hands, purge from us all that brings us harm and might harm others. Remove the invisible guilt and shame that so often keeps us from you. As we rinse our hands, we trust in your overflowing grace, making all things new.
Friends, do not let your hearts be troubled; know that, in Christ, you are forgiven. Accept God’s grace and forgiveness this day, and extend it to others for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Readings: Psalm 31:1- 16
One of Anne Stobart’s favourite hymns was ‘Hills of the North rejoice’, which is also a great favourite of mine and an appropriate one to sing as we reflect on the work of Christian Aid:
Hills of the north, rejoice;
river and mountain spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing;
though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
he judgment brings and victory.
Shores of the utmost West,
ye that have waited long,
break forth to swelling song;
high raise the note, that Jesus died,
yet lives and reigns, the Crucified.
Shout, while ye journey home;
songs be in every mouth;
lo, from the North we come,
from East, and West, and South.
city of God, the bond are free,
we come to live and reign in thee!
Here is our weekly prayer from Arthur and Kathleen:
Risen and reigning Lord, assure our troubled hearts that you have gone to prepare a place for us, so that where you are, we may be also. We join with the psalmist declaring that you are our rock and fortress and in these difficult times, please be with us and help us to trust in you to lead and guide us. Amen
I often find myself going to the book of Psalms. Some psalms are full of joy and thanksgiving and praise, some of confession, but in Psalm 31 we find a psalm of lament and of trust. The psalmist is obviously going through a difficult time. He feels shunned by his neighbours, at odds with the world, so turns to God, because he trusts in God and knows he will find a refuge there.
‘Be a rock of refuge, a fortress to save me’. The psalm seems to take on greater meaning in these times of the coronavirus, when our houses have become our refuge and indeed our fortress, as with disinfectant, sanitizer and masks we pull up the drawbridge against the invisible foe which is the virus.
A refuge is a place we feel safe and secure, whereas outside is a threat. These days we do feel secure in our lockdown homes, but I think one of the marvellous things has been the fact that people have been looking out for one another, have been caring for one another, have been looking beyond our refuge. Our neighbours are important. And that is appropriate in this Christian Aid Week, when we are encouraged to think of our neighbours and what they are going through, especially those in other lands. For 75 years Christian Aid has been committed to working with the poorest and most disadvantaged in the world, fighting against poverty that robs people of their dignity and allows injustices to thrive.
Zuze is a friend from Zambia. His brother worked for me for many years as a cook and driver. Zuze qualified as a nurse and is presently working in a hospital in the East of the country near the Mozambique border. It is pretty remote, but Covid-19 could reach there too. He would be on the frontline, but when I asked about protective clothes, he said that they had gloves and masks as PPE. Most of his patients would try to make a living from the land, but there has been a terrible drought in Zambia. Even the mighty Victoria Falls had almost dried up. Rain has come now, but too late for the crops that they had planted which shrivelled up in the heat. The climate seems to be changing, getting hotter, and this year people will go hungry and will be weaker to fight against the virus. I just hope and pray the virus doesn’t make inroads.
Ibrahim is a friend from Egypt. He is a refugee from Syria and I got to know him through the refugee programme my church there ran. He was working as an accountant in a shop, but Egypt has been hit badly by Covid-19 and is in lockdown too, and Ibrahim was laid off. There is no furlough there, and as a refugee he is especially vulnerable, for there are no food handouts to non-Egyptians. Even when the lockdown there is relaxed, he doesn’t know if his shop will reopen and whether he will have a job. Meanwhile, the rent is to be paid.
All of us are affected by this crisis. For the Psalmist in his troubles he first of all lamented. He gave voice to his suffering. He told God how things really were. He complained, you might say, to God, and we find this a lot in the Bible. People saying to God, ‘Why is this happening? Where are you?’ It is important sometimes to voice our feelings.
But the Psalmist also put his trust in God. ‘My times are in your hands’. He placed himself in God’s care, trusting that things would be well. And we too trust in the good Lord to get us through this crisis that we find ourselves in.
In the gospel, we find the disciples perplexed. It is the Thursday of Holy Week, and Jesus has told them he will be betrayed and handed over to the authorities, but he reassures them by telling them to ‘set their troubled hearts at rest’ and promising to prepare a place for them in his ‘Father’s house’ – it is a passage we often read at funerals. But Jesus was also going to commission the disciples. There was work for them to do first to build up the kingdom. I am reminded of the brilliant slogan that Christian Aid has of working for Life BEFORE death, enabling people to enjoy the fullness of life and have dignity in the here and now.
It is a shame we are not able to have our door-to-door collection or any other fundraisers this week, but the work of Christian Aid goes on and we are encouraged even more to donate. The world’s poorest people are the most vulnerable in this crisis. They are less resilient, have less access to healthcare and less able to weather the economic impact. They are probably more open to risks, because they have to survive. We, through Christian Aid, stand with alongside them, as has been done for the last 75 years. Christian Aid will be with them through the crisis and afterwards, and we too need to have that same commitment to our neighbours throughout the world. Amen
Here is a favourite prayer written by the South African Joe Seremane:
You asked for my hands that you might use them for your purpose,
I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them for the work was hard.
You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.
You asked for my life that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.
Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you
only when it is convenient for me to do so,
only in those places where it is safe to do so,
and only in those who make it easy to do so.
Lord, forgive me, renew me, heal me, nurture me,
empower me, send me out as an instrument of your peace
that I might take seriously the meaning of the cross. Amen
Prayer of lament and intercession
God our refuge, we come to you with open hands, some of us with hearts full of questions, some of us bruised by bereavement, some of us fearful of what the future holds, all of us stunned by the events of this year. Draw close to us now in each of our homes as we place our hopes into your open, resurrected, yet scarred hands.
Hear the cry of our hearts, Lord, silent and aloud, for bereaved neighbours, near and far. Comfort those pained by being absent, and hold close those who are hurting alone.
God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
In this season of Easter, renew us with resurrection hope that while weeping lingers in this night, joy will come with the morning. On this Christian Aid Week Sunday, we pray for and with communities across the world who are most vulnerable to coronavirus. We pray for people living in refugee camps and city slums, with limited sanitation facilities, who are unable to wash their hands regularly, and have little opportunity to isolate from others. We pray for Christian Aid partners working to provide soap and buckets, communicating clear, accurate information, raising the voices of the most vulnerable and ensuring they are kept as safe as possible.
God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
For those of us who are self-isolating, which can sometimes feel like we aren’t doing anything, remind us that we are all doing our part, and saving lives by staying at home.
God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for much wisdom and resources for those in local and national authority and for all frontline and key workers here in Britain, Ireland and across the world.
God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
As we have clapped to honour them, we clap our hands now in praise of your glorious creation, and with the hope that the first shoots of another possible world are coming into view.
God in your mercy, hear all our prayers. Amen.
Hymn 710 – I have a dream
May the presence of the Creator refresh you
May the comfort of the Son renew you,
May the inspiration of the Spirit restore you
to be love in action, even from a distance, in our neighbourhoods, near and far, this day and for evermore. Amen.